Japanese Travel and Work Visas
To get a work visa, a foreigner must show proof of a prearranged job in Japan and provide the name of a Japanese guarantor.
The first step in obtaining a work visa is for your sponsor or guarantor to obtain a "Certificate of Eligibility" on your behalf. The guarantor can be your employer, a school, a relative, etc. The guarantor must contact the local immigration office in Japan in order to apply for your certificate. Once you have the completed certificate, you can then apply for a visa at the Japanese embassy or consulate nearest you. When applying for a work visa, submit your valid passport, one 2" x 2" photo, a completed visa application form, the original Certificate of Eligibility, and one additional copy of the certificate. There is no fee for the visa and it will usually take two business days to process. Note that a B.A. or B.S. degree is the minimum qualification required to teach legally in Japan. An instructor category working visa is good for six months to one year; however, if you wish to stay in Japan for longer than the time allotted and can provide evidence of your continuing employment, you can apply for an extension through the Japanese Immigration Bureau. If you have a solid work record and reputation, you should be able to legally extend your stay from within the country without mishap. The Japanese Immigration Bureau can be reached at:
General Affairs Division
Japanese Immigration Bureau
Ministry of Justice
We recommend that you contact the Japanese consulate before beginning the visa process as these procedures are subject to change. Some basic approaches that may simplify your visa process follow.
Although it's not always easy, it is possible to acquire a work visa before setting foot in Japan. The key is finding an individual, school, or organization willing to sign on as your guarantor.
Writing ahead to apply for a position often pays off, especially if you have previous experience and/or a teaching certificate. If you are a greenhorn, though, connections are indispensable. Having someone to testify enthusiastically on your behalf can do wonders to span the gap between you and your prospective Japanese guarantor. You may be nice, law-abiding, and honest, or even able to single-handedly address all the difficulties the Japanese have with the English language, but if you have no previous experience or formal qualifications, most employers will want to meet you before becoming your guarantor. Be sure to start the process well in advance, as it normally takes over a month for the company or school to receive your Certificate of Eligibility.
One way to avoid this ordeal is by finding a job through a sending organization (see "Other Opportunities"). These firms interview prospective teachers in the United States on behalf of employers in Japan and set them up with all the amenities once they are hired.
Most aspiring teachers who lack jobs and guarantors initially go to Japan posing as tourists. American and Canadian citizens do not need to obtain visas if they are entering Japan for less than ninety days, but they will be required to present a return airline ticket when entering the country. After finding jobs and guarantors, they apply for work visas.
Until recently, this process involved multiple hassles and enormous costs, including two trips out of Japan. The first was for submitting a working visa application and the second was for retrieving the work visa from the same Japanese consulate. Fortunately, this process was recently streamlined so that an employer can start the work visa paper chase from Japan. Here's how it works:
The employers put together the appropriate paperwork for their new employee and send it to the immigration office. After five weeks (during which time the teacher is legally not allowed to work, but most do), he or she is issued a certificate of permission to obtain a work visa. Armed with this certificate, the teacher must then leave the country - most go to a nearby country such as South Korea - and go to a Japanese consulate to complete the necessary paperwork (allow at least one week).
Some Westerners working in Japan never bother to get a working visa. They simply teach illegally for three months with their entry permit, then fly or take the ferry to South Korea, and reenter Japan for another ninety days on a new entry permit. This scheme is technically illegal and will disqualify you for jobs at most reputable English schools. Most people doing this are teaching only as a cash-refueling measure before re-embarking on their travels. You can be deported for teaching without a work visa and we strongly discourage risking it . Schools that hire in your home country will help you avoid the stress, since they can cut through the red tape for you.
Though you don't have much choice about getting a visa, you should be aware that the schools that sponsor your work visa will try to gobble up as much of your time as possible during the most valuable hours - primarily evenings after standard office hours. You don't have to lock yourself into a thirty- or forty-hour work week in order to get a visa - a school can sponsor a teacher who works only twenty hours or so a week.
Cultural visas are issued to foreigners who are planning to study an aspect of Japanese culture. Whether you enroll in Japanese language, judo, cooking, painting, or sumo wrestling classes, your school can help you obtain a cultural visa. If you wish to work while on a cultural visa, you must apply for a work permit through the Japanese Immigration Bureau. A work permit is not the same as a working visa because your primary purpose for being in Japan is to study culture; working is secondary. For this reason, cultural visa holders are permitted to work only twenty hours per week, but many exceed this number off the record.
Applying for a cultural visa is very similar to the working visa application process. Applicants must have a sponsor in Japan that will supply them with a Certificate of Eligibility. Teachers enrolled in classes generally don't burn out as quickly because they spend at least a few hours a week studying Japanese, calligraphy, flower arranging, and so forth. The disadvantages of working on a cultural visa are primarily financial. Courses plus study time can take up quite a few hours per week, leaving fewer hours to teach. They can also be quite expensive. Cultural visas are usually issued for six months to one year, and extensions can be applied for through the Japanese Immigration Bureau.
The requirements for this visa are the same as those for the cultural visa except that it is for students who are attending colleges, universities, or vocational schools for courses of study that are not exclusively cultural. If you wish to work, you have to apply for a work permit as you would with a cultural visa because your primary purpose for being in Japan is not to work, but to study. As with the cultural visa, the number of working hours is limited to twenty per week.
If you are a Canadian, Australian, or New Zealander, you have a distinct advantage in that you can get a six-month working holiday visa (which is renewable) before setting foot in Japan. The primary purpose of the working holiday visa is to give young people a chance to see Japan and find work that is "incidental" to their holiday. Prospective applicants for a working holiday visa should contact a Japanese consulate for the details; they will likely require a valid passport, a medical report, application forms, and a letter with your schedule in Japan. This visa is renewable once, with conditions.
Many lucrative jobs will state in their advertisements "proper visa holder only." Generally, these companies simply don't want to bother applying for a work visa for their teachers, so they hire working holiday visa holders.